bookmark_borderGod and Massive Deception about the Resurrection – Part2

The key question at issue is whether (S2) is true or false:
(S2) But God would neither perpetrate nor permit grand deception regarding the Incarnation and Resurrection.
I have raised two objections against one reason that Cavin and Colombetti give for their conclusion that “(S2) is patently false”. One reason they gave was a passage from the gospel of Mark which they think shows that the author of Mark, and probably Jesus too, had a concept of God which was such that God could (and would) permit a “grand deception” in which many people would be led to believe in or follow false prophets or false messiahs on the basis of “signs and wonders” performed by those prophets/messiahs.
My first objection was simply that the author of Mark may have made a philosophical error in failing to realize that God, who is by definition a perfectly morally good person, could not possibly permit such a “grand deception”.
My second objection was that we should interpret this passage, which is allegedly a quotation from Jesus, in terms of O.T. teachings about false prophets and how to determine whether an alleged prophet is a true prophet or a false prophet.
By placing the passage from Mark in that context, we see that the passage can be reasonably interpreted as being compatible with (S2), because it appears that God could be morally justified in permitting many people to be “deceived” by false prophets or false messiahs who perform “signs and wonders” so long as those people are morally culpable for their own deception in view of their ignoring O.T. teachings (presumably guidance from God) about how to determine whether a prophet was a true prophet or a false prophet.
I suggested that from the point of view of the author of Mark, and probably also Jesus, such deception, though widespread, might not count as a “grand deception” precisely because God would be morally justified in allowing this kind of widespread deception to occur.
Now, there is no need to get into a debate over the meaning of the term “grand deception” (at this point). Suppose that Cavin and Colombetti enhance their argument by providing a clear definition or analysis of the key term “grand deception”. And suppose that under the proposed definition, the kind of case that I have put forward here fits under that definition. In that case, I would accept their proposed definition, but revise my objection to be making an important distinction between different sorts of cases of “grand deception”. I would argue that there are some cases of “grand deception” that God cannot allow, and other cases of “grand deception” that God appears to be morally justified to allow, from the point of view of the author of Mark.
Cavin and Colombetti give a second reason in support of the conclusion that “(S2) is patently false”, and they claim that this reason “establishes…conclusively” that (S2) is false (SOR, p.32). But it seems to me that the argument they give is based on an unstated assumption, and that the unstated assumption is itself “patently false”. So, I will argue that their second argument is unsound.
They point to widespread disagreement about the alleged incarnation of God in Jesus and the alleged resurrection of Jesus:
There is an incontestable item of our background evidence overlooked by Swinburne that shows that his premise that God would neither perpetuate nor permit others to perpetuate a grand deception regarding the Incarnation and Resurrection is false. For it is an undeniable fact that massive religious deception exists in the world regarding, specifically, the Incarnation and the Resurrection. There are, currently, some 2.1 billion Christians, 1.5 billion Jews and Muslims, and 1.1 billion atheists, agnostics, and secularists living today. And, while Christians hold tenaciously to the Incarnation and Resurrection as central tenets of their faith, Jews and Muslims with equal vehemence deny these, as do atheists, agnostics, and secularists.(SOR, p.32)
On the basis of the fact of widespread disagreement about the Incarnation and the Resurrection, Cavin and Colombetti infer that “grand deception” already exists concerning these beliefs:
Yet, the opposing beliefs of each of these groups regarding the Incarnation and Resurrection are either true or false. And, thus, accordingly, it is either the 2.1 billion Christians who are the ones who have the truth or it is the 1.5 billion Jews and Muslims and 1.1 billion atheists, agnostics, and secularists who do. But, either way, the adherents of at least one of these groups are deceived and hold their false beliefs on the basis of deceptive reasoning. In some cases this deception is intentional, although in most it is probably unwitting and self-inflicted. And the problem for Swinburne is that the extent of this deception, unwitting or otherwise, is global–indeed, truly grand.(SOR, p.32)
The reasoning above can be summarized as follows:
1. The adherents of at least one of these groups (each containing over a billion people) hold false beliefs about the Incarnation and Resurrection.
Thus:
2. The adherents of at least one of these groups (each containing over a billion people) are deceived concerning the Incarnation and Resurrection and hold false beliefs about the Incarnation and Resurrection on the basis of deceptive reasons.
As it stands the above inference is a non sequitur. In order to properly infer (2) from (1), we need to make an unstated assumption explicit:
(D) IF a person P believes a proposition X, and X is false, THEN
P has been deceived concerning X and P believes X on the basis of a deceptive reason.

As far as I can tell, this is an assumption being made by Cavin and Colombetti in order to correctly infer (2) from the true factual premise (1). But (D) is “patently false”, so the argument for (2) is unsound.
It is not difficult to come up with a counterexample which disproves (D). Suppose that on Tuesday morning I watch a weather forecast on T.V. and the person giving the weather predicts that it very likely to rain in the early afternoon. Based on this forecast, I form the belief that it will rain sometime in the afternoon. But on this particular day, the forecast was wrong, and it does not in fact rain. Thus, the belief I formed, namely that it would rain in the afternoon, is false. Based on (D), we can conclude that I had been “deceived concerning” whether it would rain in the afternoon, and that my belief that it would rain that afternoon was formed “on the basis of a deceptive reason”.
But this is clearly NOT the case. The weather person did NOT deceive me either wittingly or unwittingly. Nor did I deceive myself. Furthermore, my belief that it would rain that afternoon was NOT formed on the basis of a deceptive reason. I had a perfectly good reason for forming the belief that it would rain that afternoon. My belief was a justified belief, a rational belief, and the reason was in no way a deceptive reason. It is simply the case that when one reasons to probable conclusions, the conclusion will sometimes be wrong. That is the whole idea of probable reasoning; it does not produce absolutely certain conclusions.
The unstated assumption (D) is clearly false, and so the argument based on this assumption is unsound, and therefore the argument does NOT “establish…conclusively” that (S2) is false.

bookmark_borderGod and Massive Deception about the Resurrection

Robert Cavin and Carlos Colombetti have written an article raising some significant objections to Richard Swinburne’s case for the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus: “Swinburne on the Resurrection” (Philosophia Christi, Vol. 15, No. 2; hereafter: SOR). LINK
I’m fully on-board with their overall conclusion that “…Swinburne’s argument for the Incarnation and Resurrection…is seriously undermined by the failure to satisfy the requirement of total evidence.” (SOR, p.37) As with other Christian apologists, Swinburne tends to focus on evidence that supports his Christian beliefs while ignoring significant evidence that points in the opposite direction. Swinburne also uncritically accepts certain Christian claims while being much more skeptical about beliefs that run contrary to Christianity. Confirmation bias is a widespread problem in human thinking, and it is particularly a problem when it comes to the philosophy of religion.
While I’m in agreement with the general conclusion of this article, I have my doubts about some of the specific points and objections in it. I will focus on what appears to be the key objection:
Swinburne’s argument for S3, while valid, is unsound. The problem here is that S2 is patently false. (SOR, p.31)
Here is the premise that they reject:
(S2) But God would neither perpetrate nor permit grand deception regarding the Incarnation and Resurrection. (SOR, p.30)
I have a couple of general criticisms of this article. First, there is no effort to clearly define the concept of “grand deception” which is a key concept in this argument, and there appears to be a bit of slipperiness and looseness in the article concerning this key concept.
Second, there is no effort in the article to show that it is possible for a perfectly morally good person to knowingly permit a “grand deception” concerning the incarnation or resurrection of Jesus (or of someone who is NOT actually God incarnate). It is implausible on its face that a perfectly morally good person would permit such a “grand deception”, so Cavin and Colombetti have failed to address this key question, which is significant in relation to the overall question at issue.
I plan to reply to the objections that Cavin and Colombetti raise against (S2), but I’m not fully dedicated to defending (S2). I would like (S2) to be true, because it is useful for some skeptical arguments about the resurrection. Consider the following skeptical argument:
1. If Jesus was a false prophet, then God would not permit Jesus to rise from the dead.
2. Jesus was a false prophet.
Therefore:
3. God would not permit Jesus to rise from the dead.
(S2) could be used to support premise (1) of this skeptical argument.
However, I am inclined to think that Christians have an odd and implausible conception of God as a person who is fanatically concerned with human beliefs about the nature and existence of God and various other metaphysical and theological issues. If there is a God, I doubt that God cares very much about these human beliefs. It seems silly to me that an all knowing, all powerful, perfectly good, eternal creator of the universe would care deeply about such human beliefs. So, I’m somewhat skeptical about the truth of (S2), for that reason.
Cavin and Colombetti give two main reasons for the claim that (S2) is “patently false.” The first reason is that in the Gospel of Mark (13:21-23),
…Jesus is presented as saying: “And then if any one says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. False Christs and false prophets will arise and show signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. But take heed: I have told you all things beforehand.” (SOR, p.31)
According to the article, this passage shows that the author of Mark and, perhaps, Jesus himself had,
… a concept of God that was fully compatible with the thesis that God could (and, indeed, would) permit massive deception regarding the true identity of the Messiah–and this, specifically, through the misleading evidence of the signs and wonders of false prophets and messiahs that could even lead the elect astray.(SOR, p.31-32)
I have indicated above one problem with this line of reasoning: Mark’s concept of God might involve a logical or philosophical error. Given the widely accepted view that God is a perfectly morally good person, this might make it logically impossible for God to permit a “grand deception” concerning the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus. Mark might simply have held a common misconception about God, and placed that misconception into the mouth of Jesus. While Norman Geisler would not tolerate the idea that the author of a Gospel had a mistaken idea about God and put that idea into the mouth of Jesus, Richard Swinburne might be more accepting of this possibility. Marcus Borg would have no problem with this suggestion.
But there is another problem with this objection that even a Conservative Evangelical like Geisler might point out. The teachings of Jesus are the teachings of a devout Jew, and thus must be interpreted in relation to the Old Testament, which also contains passages about false prophets. If you read O.T. passages about false prophets, you see that there is more than one consideration put forward for determining whether a person is a true prophet or a false prophet. Unless there is strong reason to think otherwise, one should assume that Jesus’ teachings about false prophets were in keeping with the O.T. teachings on this topic, and that the O.T. teachings provide an appropriate background for understanding Jesus’ words in the quoted passage.
In Deuteronomy Chapter 13, it is taught that if an alleged prophet encourages people to worship or obey “other gods” (vs.2 & 6), then that prophet “shall be put to death” (vs. 5), even if some predictions made by that prophet had come true (vs. 1-3). Thus, according to the the O.T. being an alleged prophet who encourages others to worship or obey a false god is a sufficient condition for being a false prophet. It is thus a necessary condition of being a true prophet that one NOT encourage others to worship or obey a false god.
In Deuteronomy Chapter 18, it is taught that if an alleged prophet “speaks in the name of other gods” that prophet “shall die”(vs. 20). So, another sufficient condition for being a false prophet is speaking in the name of a false god. It is thus a necessary condition of being a true prophet that one NOT speak in the name of a false god.
Finally, also in Deuteronomy Chapter 18, it is taught that if an alleged prophet speaks in the name of God, but makes a prediction or assertion that “does not take place or prove true” (vs. 22), then that person is a false prophet (who should be killed). So, it is a sufficient condition of being a false prophet to be an alleged prophet who makes a false prediction or assertion in the name of God. Thus, it is a necessary condition of being a true prophet that one NOT ever make false predictions or assertions in the name of God.
Although miracles are associated with true prophets in the O.T., there is no passage in the O.T. that teaches that performing a miracle is a sufficient condition of being a true prophet.
There is no good reason to believe that Jesus intended to reject or significantly modify these teachings of the O.T. about the differences between false prophets and true prophets. Thus, these teachings from the O.T. should be taken as assumed and accepted by Jesus, and as proper background assumptions for interpretation of the passage about false prophets and false messiahs quoted from the Gospel of Mark.
From the point of view of the author of Mark, and probably also from the point of view of Jesus, the O.T. provides us with appropriate and correct criteria for determining if someone is a false prophet or a true prophet. “Signs and Wonders” or miracles, are NOT sufficient conditions for establishing that an alleged prophet is a true prophet. The O.T. teaches that other necessary conditions must be met:
– Must never (at least as a prophet) encourage others to worship or obey a false god.
– Must never speak in the name of a false god.
– Must never make a false prediction or false assertion when speaking in the name of God.
Since in the view of the author of Mark, and presumably in Jesus’ view, God has provided these criteria for determining whether someone is a true prophet or a false prophet, if someone is “deceived” into believing or following a false prophet simply because the false prophet performs some “signs and wonders”, then God cannot be held morally accountable for the foolishness of such people, for they have ignored the clear instructions that God gave on this matter. Even if millions of people were to be fooled by such false prophets, this would not reflect on God’s moral character, because they are morally culpable for their own deception, at least in part.
In the context of the belief that God has provided some clear guidance in the O.T. for how to determine whether a person is a true prophet or a false prophet, the passage from the Gospel of Mark can be made consistent with the view that God would NOT permit a grand deception concerning false prophets and false messiahs. God would permit people who ignore his guidance on this matter to be deceived into believing and following a false prophet, because those people would be morally culpable (in part) for their own deception. But we could then distinguish such a deception, even if it occurs on a “massive” scale, from a deception in which many people are misled into believing and following a false prophet when those people have diligently followed the guidance provided in the O.T. concerning this matter. It is only the latter kind of deception that a believer would likely count as “grand deception”.
To Be Continued…